Cameron’s Syria problem seeks Turkish answers
Turkey is not just another country bordering Iraq and Syria
When British Prime Minister David Cameron was in Turkey this week he was right to argue that the threat of ISIS must be confronted together. His Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Davutoğlu, said the two countries shared a ‘strong and common political will’ to tackle the challenge posed by foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq. Mr Cameron’s particular focus was on British (or European) Muslims crossing the border from Turkey to Syria.
When asked by a journalist whether Turkey should do more to stop fighters entering Syria, Mr Cameron said the two countries were already working ‘as closely as we possibly can’ to address this threat. But he also had other issues on his mind; he spoke about dealing with people after they returned from Syria, greater intelligence co-operation between both countries and making people safe in Turkey and Syria.
A concrete policy of creating a specialist hotline between intelligence agencies at its highest level was announced. But is all this enough? In my view no, because Turkey is not just another country bordering Iraq and Syria.
First, by the time they reach Turkey it is almost too late. It is not about crossing the border to Syria (Turkey has stopped hundreds of would-be Islamic militants and sent them back), but about the crossing of the border in their minds back in England. The deeper, more relevant, and long-term challenge is not about stopping them here in Turkey, but to stop them in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow.
Moreover, it's not just physically stopping them from travelling to Iraq or Syria, but to stop young Muslims from embracing extreme bigotry. It is because they are extremists they want to go and be a part of the violence: They have crossed a border in their minds. A border, which allows them to take the lives of others. A border which leaves no room for compassion, tolerance and acceptance. This is the border we need to stop them from crossing. Otherwise, even if we assume we somehow stopped all of them from joining the ranks of ISIS, these radicalized minds can inflict the same terror in England.
Turkey is not just another country bordering Iraq and SyriaCeylan Ozbudak
Secondly, Turkey is a modern Muslim country that is closer to European culture than other Muslim countries and can help Great Britain in this effort. British Muslims should look to Turkey for guidance and connections on how to follow Islam in a secular system. After all, Turkey is home to the last caliphate, and experienced a history of Islam which has broad acceptance for all faiths and races at a time when this was regarded a luxury in a good many other parts of the world. Rather than being inspired by extremism in Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere, UK Muslim organizations should be encouraged to develop deeper ties with the Turkish way of practicing Islam. This is not something the states can control with rules and regulations.
Through strict security systems and laws we can stop someone from blowing themselves’ up on a crowded bus. But we cannot stop someone from simply hating women who may be wearing revealing clothes on that bus. We cannot make a bigot appreciate and encourage the arts and sciences through security measures, this is the point we need to work on.
What Turkey can offer
Respect, compassion and love towards all parts of the society cannot be mandated by law, but it can be instilled through education. This education cannot be left to the highest bidder through oil revenues, but must be done by those who have proven themselves’ able to build a pluralist and democratic society through a secular constitution.
The British Prime Minister rightly mentioned a 60% increase in bilateral trade since 2010. The United Kingdom is the second biggest importer of goods from Turkey in the EU, after Germany. About 1 million Britons take holidays in Turkey every year, while 100,000 Turks travel to the UK for business or pleasure.
PM Cameron was also right to renew his calls for Turkish membership in the EU. Turkey withstood a global economic crisis much better than the European state and has proven itself qualified for membership. He was most welcome in Turkey, and would like to see him come back more often. He should not ignore what Turkey has to offer to his own nation’s security and prosperity; a religious approach to secularism that creates harmony between Muslims and wider society.
Mr Cameron, unlike his predecessors, attended the national prayer breakfast this year. He appointed a minister for faith communities, and unlike Nick Clegg, his deputy, and Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition, Mr Cameron is a proud Christian and appears to understand the importance of religion in people’s lives.
He pioneered the government debate in moving away from growing violent extremism, to countering ideology and extremism before it reaches violence. His Munich speech created new ground in the debate. Turkish society genuinely appreciates a leader who is open about their faith.
Despite some historical grievances, the Turkish people look up to the British for their culture, their open society and their understanding of freedom. By keeping Turkey close, England can inspire more democracy and room for open debate in this country.
On the other hand, in order to uproot radicalism, we must uproot the ideas that inspire it. To do that, we need to better understand and use religious ideas, language, and people who stand against ISIS’ toxic and dangerous ideology. In that pursuit, Great Britain needs a Muslim ally. This ally can be Turkey.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak